Do you have people on your team who are constantly saying that their life sucks?
In the book Tribal Leadership, authors Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright talk about how to engage someone like this. According to them, this “my life sucks / others have it better than me” stage is a natural progression of personal development. They acknowledge some people are stuck there for life by circumstance, but they contend that most people don’t need to be.
The key insight into this stage is building on the fact that the person accepts that life is better for others than it is for them, as opposed to “life sucks for everyone.” The “life sucks for everyone” stage is another, even lower stage that requires a different approach. However, if they think and act like life is better for other people, but not for them, then we can build on this. We can help them see that there are things that they can do to move towards that better life they see for others and that they desire.
Here are their tips:
- Encourage the person to make friends with others in the workplace, breaking out of their current (likely negative) peer group.
- Encourage the person to form relationships and receive mentoring from high-performing and supportive individuals willing to share with them. (Many high performers are willing to play this role and are engaged by doing this. This has been my experience and the experience of the book’s authors.)
- Coach the person one-on-one, focusing on what you see as their strengths. In other words, help them see the good in themselves while pointing out the things that are holding them back without being overly negative.
- Assign the person projects that they can do in a short time based on their strengths—projects that will not require excessive follow-up or nagging.
Some of this may seem like pandering to your underperformer. If you feel this way, let that feeling go. That feeling of “people need to prove themselves before I spend too much time on them” will condemn your “my life sucks” staff member to this stage forever. The first move is yours. All the tips above are designed to help the person see that their life does not need to suck. We are exposing them to other people and to new experiences that hopefully start them down the road of seeing that if they change their outlook, if they focus on what they can improve and let go of what they can’t control, that they can have a better life.
All of these tips support my most basic beliefs about leading and coaching, in particular that showing someone we care about them and adjusting our approach based on who they are and where they are in life, are the most important things we can do to help someone improve. If you have ever had success at this, you know that there is no better feeling in the world.